Charlie St. Cloud

MOVIE RATING:  3.5 stars (B)

Sometimes you have to steer clear of the crowd, and with Charlie St. Cloud (2010), that’s what I have to do. While both moviegoers and film critics generally panned this movie, I think they missed the mark on this one. While it may not be edgy or completely original, both its star Zac Efron and the film try to go places that so few movies dare to. To some degree, Charlie St. Cloud is like Field of Dreams (1989). You have to buy into it’s nearly ludicrous concept of the story being told in both the real world and in another world, namely purgatory or some other realm where the spirits of dead people come to life. I’m not really giving anything away because the concept is right there in the trailer and early on in the movie.

Director Burr Steers had a challenging job bringing this story to the screen, but I think he assembled a good cast and a good team to execute his vision. It’s been awhile since we’ve since Kim Basinger on screen in anything significant. Her role as Charlie’s mother is slight, but I enjoyed what little we got of her. Augustus Prew plays a fun sidekick character, and I liked Charlie Tahan as the younger St. Cloud brother, Sam. Rounding out the supporting cast is Donal Logue and Ray Liotta, two under utilized actors. I’m not really a fan of Amanda Crew as Charlie’s love interest, Tess, but she does what she needs to.

Yes, the movie is a bit of a soap opera at times. And yes, it’s predictable at times. And yes, Efron over acts at times. But somehow I was able to get past all of that and connect with the heart of the story and its characters and the message they deliver. The cinematography is stunning, the production design beautiful, and overall, this is a story and world I liked visiting. You might just like it too if you give it a chance.


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Check out details on this film and its Blu-ray presentation at

Charlie St. Cloud_Blu-ray 01


We Bought A Zoo


MOVIE RATING:  3.5 stars (B)

With Jerry Maguire (1996) and Almost Famous (2000) at the top of his filmography, most cinephiles eagerly awaited director Cameron Crowe’s latest movie We Bought A Zoo (2011), especially since his last feature film was the rather disappointing Elizabethtown (2005) six years ago. And by snagging both Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson as his lead actors, Crowe had two big plusses going for him right off the bat. I had reasonable expectations for Zoo, but after seeing the trailer and the PG rating, I wasn’t really sure what I was gonna get. In the end, I got a very good, heartfelt and funny, family film. It worked for me despite it’s many flaws. For 2 hours, I managed to escape into a world that feels like a modern take on the Disney classic Swiss Family Robinson (1960), which I fell in love with as a kid and still enjoy watching from time to time as an adult.

Zoo definitely has its “problems” cinematically: it’s predictable, contrived, and pretty saccharin sweet in its almost fairytale like qualities. And yet I really love it somehow. There’s just something about it’s simple story, cute kids and animals, and personal growth “life lessons” vibe that when paired with Crowe’s great taste in music, Damon’s lead acting performance, the supporting cast, and good editing, it comes together and works on a level greater than its parts. Cameron Crowe came through once again with something uniquely his own. I drank the Zoo elixir and got the Zoo buzz.


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Check out details on this film and its Blu-ray presentation at

Top 5 Movies of 2012 (6 Months In)

We’re halfway through the 2012 movie calendar year, so it’s time to list my Top 5 movies of so far…6 months in. I’ve only seen about 15 movies from the year so far, so it’s a limited list to choose from. There are a bunch of movies released in 2012 that I still want to catch up with: The Grey, Chronicle, Boy, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Jeff Who Lives At Home, The Deep Blue Sea, The Hunter, The AvengersBernie, Hysteria, Lola Versus, and To Rome With Love. But here are the Top 5 I’ve seen:

5.  Your Sister’s Sister  (3.5 stars)

4.  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  (3.5 stars)

3.  Prometheus  (3.5 stars)

2.  The Hunger Games  (3.5 stars)

1.  Safety Not Guaranteed  (4 stars)


MOVIE RATING:  3.5 stars (B)

Sir Ridley Scott is back…to making smart sci-fi movies. Prometheus (2012) is his “prequel” to the Alien franchise that he started in 1979, and his first sci-fi film in 30 years since his cult favorite Blade Runner (1982). I REALLY wanted to LOVE this movie. Not just like it, but all-out love it.  If only Scott had a better story to match the greatness of everything else that he brought to this fantastic visual and aural blockbuster. Still, there’s a lot to love here. And maybe my expectations were so high that there was no way for the film to ever live up. I just saw it yesterday, so I probably need more time to fully appreciate all its details. But my initial take on Promtheus is that it’s very good, but not outstanding and not Scott’s best work. Sorry, Sir Ridley!!! You know I love your work though. Gladiator (2000) is my current #1 movie of all time. And Thelma & Louise (1991) isn’t far behind.

Prometheus is an origin story, much like every other sci-fi/fantasy movie of the last decade. But this is about the origin of mankind, not some superhero. So it’s grounded in something more realistic and relevant…at least initially. It’s picking up the gauntlet thrown down by director Stanley Kubrick with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). If only it didn’t just pick it up and then put it on the shelf to be forgotten about. The movie opens with two archaeologists discovering a 35,000 year old cave painting in Scotland that has 6 orbs floating in the sky of its drawing with a large humanoid pointing at them. It’s in that 35,000 year old mystery, that the story got me VERY intrigued, in the same way Stargate (1994) got me with it’s ancient Egyptian alien archaeology. However, instead of really delving into the origins and mysteries of life on earth and the big questions of is there a God and how did the universe come into being, Prometheus simply turns into a guts-and-glory horror action flick halfway in. At that point, no one, human or alien really cares anymore about the big questions of life that got this whole journey started. They’re simply concerned with killing life at whatever cost.

I love that the humanoid aliens seemingly created us, but now want to destroy us. But WHY? I don’t need a definitive answer, but couldn’t we have at least played with the question for awhile after asking it? But maybe that’s all Promotheus was ever supposed to give us. I guess I expected more from Sir Ridley Scott at this stage in his filmmaking career. I wanted him to bring the smarts and finesse in his other great films to this one. Now, maybe, just maybe, these questions are meant to be looked at in more detail in Prometheus 2 and 3, which seem likely to have been on Scott and 20th Century Fox’s minds during the production of this first one. But as a moviegoer, I want each movie to be complete and great on its own merits as well as across its subsequent sequels if and when they happen. What if we don’t get another Prometheus? Then we’re left with a movie that’s really just a one-act “trailer” for something that could have or should have been. I know I’m being harsh on Ridley Scott and his team of thousands that worked hard for years to give us Prometheus. But I expected more from a guy who didn’t even make the sequel to his original film that helped start this current Hollywood movie franchise mess.

Ok…now that I’ve gotten out the bad, it’s time for the good. Prometheus is one of the most visually stunning sci-fi movies of all time. It’s pure eye candy from the first frame to the last. Every shot, every graphic, every visual effect, and every set/location just wowed me on the big screen in 4k digital projection. This film was completely shot on the Red Epic digital cinema camera and it shows just how fantastic and “filmic” digital cinematography can be. I hear the arguments, most recently by director Christopher Nolan, about how digital is not yet at the same level as film, but if Prometheus doesn’t put the final nail in that coffin, I don’t know what else possibly could. I never once wished that Prometheus was shot on film. It was just so perfect in digital. In fact I don’t think it could look as good in film, especially with all the visual effects. I give Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski and his camera team kudos for helping craft one of the best looking movies ever. This movie, and Wolski, better be a candidate for Best Cinematography at next year’s Oscars.

In terms of acting, Michael Fassbender once again steals the show…this time as an android named David. But most of the cast does a fine job in their contributing roles. I didn’t really like Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw though. I think a better actress could have brought more to the role, but she’s satisfactory. She’s the protagonist that we are being told this story through the eyes of, and maybe that’s partly why the story didn’t sink in with me as much as I wanted it to. Her character just didn’t have the human and emotional character depth that Fassbender’s robot had. And I think that’s a problem when the robots are more human than the humans. Sigourney Weaver brought something more to the party in her role as Ellen Ripley. Idris Elba was great as the ship’s captain, but I wanted more of him. And Charlize Theron played a “bitch” as good as anyone can. That’s a compliment by the way. I would’ve liked to found out more about the humanoid aliens that created us. One would assume they are as intelligent as us, if not more, but we’re given no one to connect with. Too bad.

The production design on Prometheus is breathtaking and epic. I can’t even imagine all the work by hundreds if not thousands of people that went into designing and building the sets, ships, vehicles, costumes, and props of this world. Arthur Max brought the same greatness to the production design of Prometheus as he brought to Se7en (1995)Gladiator (2000), and Black Hawk Down (2001), all three visual masterpieces.

The sound on Prometheus is just as epic and important, if not more so, than the visuals. And the entire sound team executed with precision and power. There’s really nothing else to say about it. You just have to hear it in a huge way on the big screen and you know exactly what I mean. The music on the other hand, by composer Marc Streitenfeld is a mixed bag. Half of it is perfect and the other half felt weird to me. Some of the music just didn’t fit emotionally in my opinion. I noticed several times that I was taken out of the storytelling because of the music creating the wrong mood. I was surprised because I certainly didn’t expect the musical score to not fit on a film like this. I can’t really think of any sci-fi film that it hasn’t fit on.

While Prometheus doesn’t quite live up to the high expectations I had for it, the bottom line is that I ABSOLUTELY 100% suggest you go see Prometheus on the big screen. It’s event movies like this that the big screen with big sound is just so darn perfect for. I highly regret not seeing Danny Boyle’s superb film Sunshine (2007) in the theater when it came out, but that movie flew under the radar, so I have an excuse to some degree. Prometheus clearly got some of its look and feel from Sunshine, which is a fantastic original sci-fi film that you should definitely check out if you like smart sci-fi. I plan on seeing Prometheus at least once more in the theater and then again on blu-ray. The experience is just so fantastic in the theater that I can’t imagine not having that as a reference for every time I watch this film again.

For some other points of view on Prometheus, positive and negative, check out these reviews:

1. Adam Quigley at /Film
2. Roger Ebert




Check out details on this film and its Blu-ray presentation at

Prometheus_Blu-ray 01

Top 10 Movies of 2008

2008 was an average year for movies. There’s really not much else to say about it. So I’ll just get to my list of the 10 best movies!

10.  Vicky Cristina Barcelona  (3.5 stars)

9.  Nights In Rodanthe  (3.5 stars)

8.  Revolutionary Road  (3.5 stars)

7.  21  (3.5 stars)

6.  Appaloosa  (4 stars)

5.  Doubt  (4 stars)

4.  Gran Torino  (4 stars)

3.  The Visitor  (4 stars)

2.  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull  (4.5 stars)

1.  Jumper  (5 stars)

Jumper might seem like an odd choice for my #1 movie of 2008, but while it looks on the surface like just another visual effects driven, high-concept, big budget blockbuster, there’s really a good dramatic story interwoven within it. And I think they were just scratching the surface of it in this film, hoping to go deeper into it with a sequel. But even if they never make another Jumper, I think this film stands on its own. When I first saw it, I liked it, but not enough to propel it ahead of most of the other movies in this list. But over repeated viewings, Jumper just really won me over. It kept getting better and better with each viewing. Director Doug Liman really brought a great team together for this project and it paid off. I’m hoping he’s able to do it again.

Bully (2011 Documentary)

MOVIE RATING:  3.5 stars (B)

Bully (2012) is a raw and visceral documentary about kids being bullied, told from the point of view of the kids (and their parents) who are being bullied. Directed, and shot for the most part, by Lee Hirsch, Bully is unafraid to delve into what it feels like to be bullied. And Hirsch definitely gets that part right. Kids can be downright cruel to one another. Especially to those that don’t fit into what the bully or the group labels and defines as “Normal”…whatever that means. They judge their peers on physical looks, religion, sexuality, behavior, intelligence, etc. And they bully them through violence, words, and emotions.

Hirsch found an effective way to tell his story of the victims of bullying by shooting the documentary on a Canon 5D Mark II, a small still photography camera (DSLR) that shoots great HD video. This “low-key” production strategy gave him the ability to almost disappear while he was embedded with these kids in the schools, on the bus, and around their towns. Hirsch shot most of the film by himself so as not to call attention to a “crew” and the fact that he was making a movie. It’s surprising at times that the kids act out their bullying on camera, but from listening to Hirsch talk about the making of the film in an Apple “Meet The Filmmaker” podcast, it sounds like the bullies forgot that he was there at times, and naturally fell into their bullying habits and routines.

The stories of 6 kids (3 boys and 3 girls) are woven together over the course of the movie, moving through time and experiences as the movie marches forward. Hirsch does a great job of tying each story together with the others, showing their interconnectedness, but also giving each kid their own voice. I was definitely invested in the film emotionally from the first few minutes. The raw emotions of the people on camera are palpable and unless you’ve never been bullied at all, you can’t help but relate to the stories to some extent from first hand experience.

From a filmmaking standpoint, Bully is a well edited and put together movie. Hirsch clearly understands how to take various ideas/stories/segments and combine them to create a compelling narrative. The cinematography at times showed both brilliance and the roots of its low-budget, handheld, shot by the Director approach. Some of the handheld photography with its jittery and bumpy views, in-and-out of focus moments, and low quality, did call attention to itself, taking me out of the story. I appreciate that Hirsch probably got thrown into capturing video at times by himself and couldn’t focus on the quality of the shot and had to focus just on getting the shot so as not to interrupt the moment. But the handheld technique did feel a bit amateur and sloppy at times. It built-up in annoyance in me over the course of the film. But Hirsch was also able to capture some incredible moments and beautiful shots that might not have been caught if they had been thought about. Cinematography is always a double-edged sword in documentaries.

As a film about bullying, I wanted to experience the stories of some of the bullies as well. How did they learn their bullying behavior? What is causing them to treat other kids the way they do? While I can understand and appreciate that Hirsch wanted to just focus on the victims, I can’t help but want to delve into the other side of this issue more. And maybe another film will explore those aspects of this issue. If there is one thing I know, from first hand experience, it’s that bullying is a complex thing. Often times, those being bullies have been victims of bullying themselves. It’s a harsh Darwinesque “Survival of the fittest” world that we live in. And Bully definitely made me question my own behavior and experiences, both as a kid and as an adult.


Top 10 Movies of 2011

(Updated August 25, 2012 – 50/50 was moved up from #4 to #3. Shame moved down from #3 to #4. The Tree of Life was upgraded to 4.5 stars and moved up from #7 to #5. Martha Marcy May Marlene dropped to #6 from #5. Sarah’s Key dropped from #6 to #7.)

(Updated May 24, 2012 – The Tree of Life was upgraded to 4 stars and moved to #7 on the list. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo dropped to #8 and Super 8 dropped to #9.)

Here it is: the hardest blog post I write every year. My Top 10 Movies for the past year in film.

2011 was a surprisingly great year for smaller films. I saw more small films and indies in the theater than I’ve ever seen in the theater before in my life. I’m now VERY familiar with my local “arthouse” theater. I went back to the theater in full force, seeing 39 movies total on the big screen. With Harkins Theaters installing high quality digital projectors in all of their Phoenix theaters last year, the movies never looked or sounded better on the big screen. I for one don’t miss 35mm film projectors at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love the look of film, but I love the clarity and pristine presentation of the new 4k digital projectors. Simply spectacular!

As always, it was tough to finalize this list…hence my February 2012 posting date. I wouldn’t be surprised if I update this list 6-12 months from now, adding a couple films and subtracting a couple, modifying the ratings a bit, etc. But as of today, this is my Top 10. Check out every single one of these films on blu-ray.

10.  We Bought A Zoo  (3.5 stars)

9.  Super 8  (3.5 stars)

8.  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo  (4 stars)

7.  Sarah’s Key  (4 stars)

6.  Martha Marcy May Marlene  (4 stars)

5.  The Tree Of Life  (4.5 stars)

4.  Shame  (4.5 stars)

3.  50/50  (4.5 stars)

2.  Moneyball  (4.5 stars)

1.  Margin Call  (5 stars)

It was a tough choice between my top 3 films as to which I would choose to be #1. All 3 are outstanding in so many ways. But Margin Call really grabbed me the most. It’s the Wall Street (1987) of our modern time.  In fact, I love it even more than that classic 80’s icon. I saw it twice in the theater, once on DVD, and most recently I bought the blu-ray and watched it a fourth time. Writer/Director J.C. Chandor simply crafted a taught, intelligent, and thrilling movie that grabbed me in every way that a movie can and should. The writing and subject matter was so clear and so well put together. The ensemble cast provided some of the best acting of the year, with all 8 of the actors pictured on the poster above giving some of their best performances ever. The production design, cinematography, music, and every other detail of the film were perfectly executed. Th movie is a thrill ride for the brain, as smart as last year’s The Social Network (2010).

Part of why I’m championing Margin Call as my #1 movie of the year, is to show that indie filmmaking is alive and kicking very strong. Even while many claim that indie film is dead or starving. Margin Call was made for $3.4 million, it did incredibly well on Video On Demand, and made about $5 million at the box office. All small numbers by Hollywood standards. They probably spent more on catering for Transformers 3. Margin Call was shot almost all digitally, mostly on the Red One camera. And it just shows that great movies don’t have to come from the big 6 studios in Hollywood. Look at the rest of my Top 10 Movies of 2011 and you’ll see the same can be said about Shame, 50/50, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sarah’s Key, and even to a degree, The Tree Of Life. And then of course there are all the other good indies and small films that didn’t quite make my Top 10, like DrivePariah, Win Win, Like Crazy, My Week With Marilyn, The ConspiratorTake Shelter, and We Need To Talk About Kevin. My point is that the great films of 2011 were movies that most people probably didn’t see at the theater. But that’s their loss. I only hope they find all of them in their home theater at some point and appreciate how great of a year 2011 really was for the movies.